The Lexicon of Sustainability
Cross-posted from Gilt Taste.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Lexicon of Sustainability is how damn cool it looks. Sure, Douglas Gayeton’s smart, visually packed collages connect the dry terminology of the food movement to real people and places — no small feat. But it’s his super-personal aesthetic and warmth as a storyteller that draw you in.
Gayeton got the idea for the Lexicon project about two years ago, in the middle of a dinner party, when a guest butchered the definition of “food miles.” If Gayeton could define and build out the language of sustainability, he thought, he could give people the tools they needed to bounce around real ideas. To make a change. Gayeton identified 100 key terms and began visiting the farmers, fishermen, foragers, and chefs across the country who could help him define them. “I simply spend time with them. I don’t know what I’m doing in advance and I don’t storyboard anything. I just listen.”
The artist shoots an average of 1,000 photographs with each of his subjects. He then prints the photos out, cutting and pasting up to 100 of them together to create a massive collage (the smaller pieces are four by five feet; the larger ones can cover a wall). From here, Gayeton takes the stories of his subjects — their thoughts, recipes, ramblings — and writes them down on a sheet of glass, which is layered on the collage and shot again, the text floating dreamily above the image. This painstaking process, even with the assistance of a small team, takes Gayeton about three weeks.
We talked to him about a few of his favorite pieces:
Wild Harvest: “Tyler Gray and I foraged for bull kelp in the Vancouver Harbor and we actually went out among the ships into the water. See, he was adamant that I get there at 9 a.m. but I showed two hours late because I was held up in traffic crossing the border. By then, the tide had risen and Tyler had to wade out into the freezing water and harvest in his underwear. That’s why he was shaking. He was pretty mad.”
The Foraging Circuit: “When I first met Tyler, he told me about foraging year round on this highly evolved circuit. He really wanted to make the point that a lot of foraging happens in plain sight, so we went to a golf course to forage for chanterelles. We could hear the golfers cursing and yelling about 30 feet away. And there we were, right next to them, mushroom hunting.”
Sustainability: “Running Squirrel is part of the team that forages for Tyler. He’s in his 80s and truly amazing. He gave us the one definition we like to use when we talk about sustainability, which is inspired by watching how animals eat in the wild: Never eat all of something. It’s so simple, but if you think about it, that’s really the heart of this idea.”
Eating in Season: “Iso Rabins is a legendary figure in San Francisco. He started Forage SF and The San Francisco Underground Farmers Market, where people who make their own foods can gather secretly to sell their wares. He would not allow me to say where we were because he was paranoid he might be arrested for selling these goods in a public space.”
Fallen Fruit: “These guys started an entire movement. They mapped out neighborhoods like East L.A., where people forget that fruits and vegetables exist. It was a really important project to show people that food is out there, it’s everywhere, you just need to look for it.”
If the pieces speak to you, keep in mind that Gayeton is traveling with his work, and looking for teachers, cooks, gardeners, activists, and other unlikely art curators to host some shows across the country.